Last week when I described my current state of organizing and activism, I promised that I would go back and tell the story of how I got here. So, that’s today’s post.
After a childhood that was blessedly mixed due to the southern roots of my Missouri small town, I melted into whiteness when I left for college. Most of my adult life I ignored race — like many white people. I occasionally had co-workers of color, but rarely friends of color.
That changed on February 7, 2008, when my St. Louis County suburb of Kirkwood, Missouri, was shaken to the core by a shooting at our City Hall. A well-known black man killed five city officials including two police officers.
Shortly after the shooting, a group of citizens formed the Community for Understanding and Healing (later changed to Hope), CFUH, to host dialogues about race in Kirkwood. They took a break over the summer and, in their place, one CFUH leader set up three meetings to discuss books. That began the CFUH Book Group that refused to stop meeting in the fall and is still going strong today. We’ve read 74 books together! We’re an inter-racial book group specializing in books about race in America.
Occasionally, I would hear something like this from a non-reading citizen: “But, you’re not really doing anything. You’re just reading books.” I had a not terribly astute answer along the lines of “Reading is doing something — just ask the black authors of the books we buy.”
In the summer of 2013, we read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Everyone I know of who read that book, inside the book group and out, felt like we were sitting on a powder keg and something had to change. What and how? Our book group was still exploring that question when the powder keg blew up, right in our County.
I felt, then and now, that my participation in the CFUH Book Group was meant to be. It was my preparation, my advent. What I have done since is follow my calling.
Michael Brown and the Ferguson Commission
Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson on August 9, 2014. Ferguson, like Kirkwood, is an old St. Louis County suburb with a distinct historic downtown, a railroad station, and its own independent library.
That’s when I discovered that our book club had been growing activists. We had people on the ground in Ferguson in that first week. Every supporting event that was held in Kirkwood drew several members from our book group. The vigil that eventually became the West County Community Action Network was started by a church in West County, but it attracted more than their members from the beginning –because I went and brought some of my book group friends. When the Ferguson Commission, which met in locations all over the region, came to Kirkwood, our book club showed up to learn and support their efforts.
When the West County Community Action Network began to formalize itself, the Ferguson Commission Report was the inspiration that helped us choose where to put our efforts. I’m most drawn to the education issues. The call to action that’s drawing the most energy from our organization and others in the region is Reforming School Based Discipline. So, that’s where I’m adding my effort, to increase my impact, with the activities that I described in last week’s post.
What issues call you to take action?